Motivation, Markets and Meaning

Perceptions of higher education in students at élite and local universities in England and Cuba


  • Alpesh Maisuria University of the West of England, Bristol
  • Rosi Smith De Montfort University



Cuba, England, Perceptions, Choice, Social Class, Socialism, Neoliberalism


In this article we report research exploring students’ perceptions of higher education in élite and local universities in England and Cuba. Currently there is no research/scholarship that has focussed on analysing the perceptions and motivations of students: a) comparing across Cuban and England contexts; and the b) focussing on different types of universities within these countries; which means there is an absence of knowledge to inform policy and practice, for example in relation to widening access to universities. To modestly address this research gap, we use qualitative data from students at two universities in Cuba and two in England. Our analysis reveals shared experiences and notable homogeneity about the social contribution aspect of university study among students at the local universities in both countries and the élite university in Cuba. The élite university students in England were primarily focussed on individual development through university study. We show a need for educators to focus on the way that social class and a localised sense of belonging operate, and also the way that it conditions perceptions and choice in HE systems. More widely, there emerges the need for existential reflection on the key objective of HE policy, and its role and function for promoting the relative balance between individual gain and societal development.

Author Biographies

Alpesh Maisuria, University of the West of England, Bristol

Alpesh Maisuria’s work examines the ideological and political drivers of education policy decisions in England, Sweden, and Cuba. Much of his work coalesces around problematising the role and function of education in (re)producing forms of social class inequality. Alpesh’s scholarship is informed by Antonio Gramsci’s conception of hegemony and class struggle, and also Roy Bhaskar’s critical realism. Alpesh is an editor of the Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies (JCEPS) and the Program Chair for the American Educational Research Association Marxian SIG. He is also a UK Parliament Academic Fellow.

Rosi Smith, De Montfort University

Rosi Smith has worked in secondary, further and higher education in a variety of teaching and support roles. Her research focusses on education in Cuba, with a particular emphasis on ideology, citizenship, inclusion and identity. She is author of Education, Citizenship, and Cuban Identity and is a former Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow (a grant that funded one of the research projects used in this paper). She is currently working on building partnerships with Cuban community university networks.